City of Strife by Claudie Arseneault | Review

Pages: 375

Genre: high fantasy, lgbt

TW for the book (from author): “abuse (physical, emotional, mind control — seriously, if depictions of abuse trigger you, please be very careful when approaching this novel/avoid it.), torture, homelessness, child abandonment, police brutality, racism, family death, memory loss, death by fire (mention) and hanging.”

My thoughts

I went into this book with little expectation or knowledge outside of it being a lesser-known fantasy book with many queer characters. All that was very true! All the characters are queer; bisexual, demi, pan, poly, gender fluid, agender, asexual, aromantic is all represented in an overall ruthless and amazing magical city. It is also a very ethnically diverse group. I just found out the author is the person behind the “Aro ace database” and it’s ownvoices for aro-ace.

The writing caught me from the very beginning;

Arathiel had grown tired—tired of not feeling rough wood under his hand, tired of not smelling the salty sea or earthy autumn air, tired of not tasting even allegedly spicy meals. Tired of being alone, a shadow, always one step removed from the world. One day, he would need to face his family.

I might have a big weakness for main characters who take the time to observe the world around them, is a thief or assassin, but also cares deeply for their friends. Also in general I find that there is way too little focus on platonic love, friends and friends as found-family in fantasy and young adult books (which is what I mainly read when it comes to fiction). And this book truly had all of those things, to the point where the few boring parts where the pacing gets a bit too slow is overshadowed by the good and unique elements for me. This book just gave me a lovely, fun and exciting experience reading it with characters I squeal over, but also feel comforted by. Without sacrificing any of the heavyness or high fantasy elements usual to the genre.

Tonight, however, he had a more mundane activity in mind: a game of cards with the two precious friends he’d managed to make. Way more stressful than sneaking into an inhabited building during the day, locating his target, and slitting his throat before anyone noticed him. Not to mention, Cal wanted to invite a new player today. Worse, he wanted Hasryan to do it.

Fantasy centered in a city and its politics with merchant families and rivalry, it’s just great. It highlights the many tough, quick choices characters have to make, magic making everything more complicated somehow as well. And the plot builds so naturally on the personalities and choices made by these characters and their lives intertwining by living in the same city. It’s not a very extended world-building and I think here’s where the fantasy book would’ve had more potential to build on. There is very many characters to keep track on through multiple POVs, but personally it was okay, even if a bit difficult to understand or relate to all of them just by the sheer amount. It is just a book that tries (and succeeds) to do a lot in under 400 pages. The morally gray aro-ace wizard-in-training Nevian is suffering under an abusive mentor. Arathiel is a mood, as they say, as he’s been gone from the city for 130 years after disappearing while looking for a cure for his ill sister. He’s back to a completely changed city and deciding on whether to claim his right as a noble or keep this anonymous new identity as the keeper of a homeless shelter of sorts. And I loved Cal of course. I’ve highlighted too many quotes of him talking about cheese to not love that character.

Cal climbed into it, then stared at Larryn, his legs dangling. Expecting something. Larryn cleared his throat, hurried to his pantry, and retrieved several types of cheese from it. He had bought so many yesterday, and it would be delusional not to admit guilt had played a big part in it. He had no intention of cooking with this

This will be a book I return to reread and I need to get a physical copy as well. And I’ve yet to read the next book, which I’m excited for! I always need more personality-driven fantasy books with lots of politics in my life, but especially when they have such a queer cast and focus on friendship and found families.